Active Christians in a Critical Time
YOU, as other persons around the globe, may be keenly aware that we live in critical times.
Many realize that times are critical because so much attention is given to weapons and war. Others sense the criticalness because of economic problems. Or, if asked why our times are critical, you might think about the increasing crime and violence. These problems are but evidences that we are living during a foretold period: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here.”—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
But on Sunday, September 13, 1981, there was a special event that well illustrated that even in our “critical times” Christians can be spiritually active and optimistic about the future. What was that event? How can we benefit from it?
GRADUATION OF GILEAD SCHOOL
The special event occurring in New York, N.Y., U.S.A., was the graduation exercise of the 71st class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. We do well to reflect on some points made during the program.
The principal speaker was F. W. Franz, president of the Watchtower Society and of the School. His hour-long talk opened with a review of the School’s history. After the outbreak of World War II, the then-president of the Society, J. F. Rutherford, believed that intense persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses might require that a move be made from the Society’s Brooklyn, New York, headquarters. Thus he had buildings constructed in upstate New York that could be used to house the headquarters staff. Then in 1942, when N. H. Knorr became the Society’s third president, a careful review of Revelation chapter 17 revealed that the League of Nations peace organization, symbolized by a wild beast, would reappear in some form. (Rev. 17:8) That meant that the war would end and a period of peace would follow. As you know, that is exactly what happened, the refurbished peace organization being the United Nations.
With that Scriptural insight, the decision was made to employ the buildings in upstate New York for a special school to train missionaries who could spread the “good news of the kingdom” in many foreign lands during the coming peace period. (Matt. 24:14) This unique school opened on February 1, 1943, and, as the Society’s fourth president, Franz was now addressing its 71st graduating class.
He appropriately asked the 27 students from eight lands: “Some 36 years of the current peace period have elapsed, so how long is it going to last? And what indications do we have that it is going to terminate very, very soon?” How would you answer?
Franz then discussed some fascinating aspects of Bible chronology involving our very time. He mentioned that Jehovah’s Witnesses have long held that the World War I year of 1914 marked the end of the period mentioned by Jesus: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations [or, “times of the Gentiles,” Authorized Version] are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) That means that God’s kingdom, represented by Jerusalem, was established in heaven then. But some have claimed that 1914 meant nothing and that Jesus had in mind a trampling on the literal city of Jerusalem. The speaker, though, asked: “What do you find when you enforce the consequences of that view?”
In 1967 the army of the state of Israel gained control of the West Bank, including the old walled city of Jerusalem. “Yet,” Franz asked, “has that resulted in the glory of Jehovah God? Has that resulted in the coming of the Messiah to establish the kingdom of God over there in earthly Jerusalem?” The clear answer is, No. Nor are the literal Jews preaching the “good news of the kingdom” in fulfillment of Matthew 24:14. Hence, the facts show that the ‘trampling of “Jerusalem” by the Gentiles’ did not end in 1967. Rather, the “sign” Jesus gave has been fulfilled since the pivotal year 1914. From then the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, has been ruling from the heavens in the midst of his enemies. (Ps. 110:1, 2) The new missionaries were thus urged, ‘The time left certainly must be reduced,’ and they should have a sense of urgency, with much to do in these critical times.—1 Cor. 7:29-31.
The graduating students could easily see why they should be active in Christian work. So could their relatives and others in the audience, numbering some 2,000. All were thrilled to learn that arrangements have been made for training more missionaries. Two of the students were to return to Germany to be instructors at a new “Gilead Extension School” in that country. It will be a concentrated two-and-a-half month course for ministers who, without having to learn English, can be trained and proceed to foreign missionary assignments.
HELPFUL COUNSEL FOR ACTIVE CHRISTIANS
Other speakers on the graduation program offered sound Scriptural counsel to the class, counsel that all Christians can benefit from in our critical times.
U. V. Glass, one of the Gilead School instructors, encouraged reflection on the example of Jeremiah, who continued to preach despite opposition and danger. In contrast, the prophet Urijah fearfully fled to Egypt, only to be brought back to Judah and executed by the king. The example of Jeremiah, and the support he received from the Ethiopian Ebed-Melech, was also highlighted in an excellent drama put on by the students in the afternoon. The drama was entitled “Fearless Proclaimer of an Unpopular Message.”
The graduation program included brief but helpful talks by some experienced ministers. For instance, David Olson focused on 1 Samuel 2:30, where God says: “Those honoring me I shall honor.” It was pointed out that all of us appreciate being treated with respect, so we should make it a point to accord others honor or regard. That is especially helpful for persons living or working closely together, such as the missionaries. Karl Klein discussed the importance of ‘not heaving sighs against one another,’ as advised at James 5:9. Whereas we might groan or sigh over our own shortcomings, groaning over the weaknesses of fellow Christians usually involves judging them and can cause them to be discouraged or depressed.
While the students were not becoming missionaries by taking some vow, Ralph Walls emphasized that they (and all of us) might imitate the spirit of the ancient Nazirites. These denied themselves certain things so that they might concentrate on spiritual matters. And, as the Nazirites’ hair emphasized their subjection to Jehovah, active Christians need a spirit of submission, to those with whom they serve as well as to God.—Num. 6:2-7.
The graduation program closed after the drama and a final prayer. But the audience were more determined than ever to continue actively ‘walking with God,’ as George Gangas earlier in the day enthusiastically urged the class, drawing on the examples of Enoch and Noah. (Gen. 5:24; 6:9) And all could recall instructor J. Redford’s talk that concluded with the encouragement that the graduates and the audience continue ‘to advertise the King and the Kingdom’ in these critical times.
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Future instructors of the Gilead Extension School in Germany, with Filipino missionary graduates
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The Biblical drama movingly portrayed Jeremiah as a fearless proclaimer of God’s message